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The most effective way of protecting yourself from the flu is by getting the flu shot each year. A new vaccine is developed annually based on the three strains of influenza which are predicted to be the most prevalent that year. The vaccine works by introducing a small amount of inactivated influenza virus into our body allowing our immune system to build an army of antibodies to the virus. If we are then exposed to the live virus, our immune system sends the antibodies to “attack” the foreign invader, preventing an infection from developing.
Unfortunately, sometimes the unexpected happens, as was the case this flu season. The influenza strain that ended up being the most widespread this year was not one of the three strains contained in the vaccine, so there were many cases of people getting sick – even those who did get vaccinated. Naturally, people are concerned about the effectiveness of the flu shot and have doubts about whether they should get the vaccine again.

Here are some points to consider when making your decision to get immunized next flu season:

1. Extensive research is done each year to make the decision about which three strains will be included in the vaccine. Generally, the predictions are very accurate and the vaccine prevents many thousands of people from becoming ill each year. However, we need to remember that the annual flu vaccine does not protect against all strains of the influenza virus, so there is a chance that someone could become infected with another strain.

2. We need to understand that what happened this year was unusual. This season, the virus essentially ‘outsmarted’ us. It was determined that the main viral strain mutated, leaving the vaccine less effective than expected. This mutation meant that the virus changed in such a way that the antibodies our immune system had developed after receiving the vaccine, were not able to mount a very effective response to infection by the live virus.

3. The flu vaccine CANNOT give you the flu. The components of the vaccine are inactivated influenza viral particles – meaning only pieces of the killed virus are present and are not able to cause infection.

4. Immunity from the flu shot is not immediate. It takes about 14 days for our immune system to develop antibodies to the strains contained in the vaccine. During this lag period, it is possible to develop an infection if contact with the virus occurs during the first two weeks after vaccination.

5. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months be immunized each year. Not only can it protect you from becoming very sick, but it can help to protect those around you, by reducing the spread of the virus. Furthermore, if you do come down with the flu after receiving the vaccination, the infection will likely be less severe and may not last as long.

6. Vaccines – including the flu vaccine – do NOT cause developmental disorders like autism. People have become very concerned with the idea that thimerosal (a preservative used in some vaccines) is linked to the development of autism in children, but there is no evidence of this being true. However, there are flu vaccines available that do not contain thimerosal if you still have concerns.

6. It is beneficial to get the flu shot at any point during flu season; not only at the beginning. Also, it is a good idea to get vaccinated even if you have already had the flu that season as the infection may have been caused by a different strain.

Although the flu vaccine is the most important form of protection from the flu virus, people must remember that hand hygiene is also a key component to preventing the spread of infection. Washing hands thoroughly and often, using hand sanitizer when washing is not possible, and staying home if you have flu-like symptoms to avoid spreading the virus to others.
Influenza can be a serious illness for many people, especially children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, but the flu vaccine is important for everyone. It helps to protect yourself and those around you from potentially becoming very ill. If you have more questions about the flu vaccine, please talk to your pharmacist.

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What are the measles?

According to the World Health Organization, measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. It is characterized by a red blotchy rash, commonly causes diarrhea and pneumonia and in more severe cases can even cause brain swelling or death. Measles is an airborne disease that spreads easily through the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It may also be spread through contact with saliva or nasal secretions of an infected individual. People can be contagious for as many as 4 days before the rash and for up to 4 days after the start of the rash.

Why has there been so much talk about measles lately?

In the past several years there have been multiple measles outbreaks. Currently we are dealing with a number of cases throughout the Niagara Region. Over the last year you may have also heard about the much larger multi-state outbreak that has occurred in the United States. This larger outbreak has been linked to some of the cases in Canada while other cases have been linked to travel to countries where measles is endemic.

What are the symptoms?
• Fever
• Runny nose
• Drowsiness
• Irritability
• Red eyes or sensitivity to sunlight
• Small white spots on the inside of the mouth and throat
• Red blotchy rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body within 3 to 7 days after the start of symptoms

How can I prevent myself or my family from contracting measles?

The most important measure you can take to prevent the measles is to get vaccination with two doses of a measles-containing vaccine. The first dose of measles vaccine is typically administered at 12 months of age with a second dose administered prior to a child’s fifth birthday. All adults and children are advised to ensure that their vaccinations are up to date. For more information on whether your vaccinations are up to date, contact your health care provider or the Niagara Region public health department.

What to do if you suspect you have the measles:

• Before visiting your health care provider, be sure to contact them first and describe your symptoms over the phone so that they can take appropriate precautions before assisting you, or direct you to the most appropriate health provider.
• Contact your health care provider or Niagara Region public health at 905-688-8248, ext. 7330.

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Although we are in the midst of another flu season here in Canada, it has been the Ebola virus recently dominating headlines and causing fears around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 14,400 confirmed or suspected Ebola cases as of Nov. 11, 2014, mainly in the African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, thus making it the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. The current epidemic has led to over 5,100 deaths and the lack of any vaccine continues to cause fears of a global spread of Ebola. However, a closer look at the details regarding these events should ease nerves and help shift focus back to the greater threat of year’s influenza strain.

In the early stages of infection, it is difficult to differentiate Ebola from the flu as both cause non-specific symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, fatigue, headaches and a sore throat. However, Ebola patients will begin to develop vomiting and diarrhea after 3-6 days and approximately half will also experience hemorrhagic events such as nosebleeds, bloody diarrhea, and bruising typically occurring between 2 to 21 days after initial symptoms appearIt is also important to note that unlike the flu, Ebola is not an airborne virus. Furthermore, Ebola can only be transmitted once symptoms appear while flu patients can spread the virus before and during their illness.

Scientists believe that the first Ebola patient contracted the virus after handling an infected animal, possibly a fruit bat or monkey. Unlike humans, these animals are able to ‘host’ the virus without becoming severely ill. Once a human becomes infected, transmission to other people may occur only through direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids from an Ebola-infected person. In West Africa, this direct contact occurs during traditional West African funerals that involve washing and touching the deceased as part of the mourning process. This practice is not commonly followed in Canada and would limit the rate of transmission if the virus somehow found its way to North America.

You may have heard speculation that mortality rates for the current Ebola outbreak are as high as 90 percent. Keep in mind that these inflated rates are based on patient care settings that are not as sophisticated as the resources available in Canadian facilities. Insufficient medical care, shortage of supplies and a lack of funding are undoubtedly contributing to the epidemic. Although there is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available for Ebola, our hospitals are able to provide high-quality supportive care which can help boost the patient’s own immune system enough to overcome the virus on its’ own.

Therefore, at least within Canada, there is no reason to fear those with a fever or upset stomach. However, reasonable precautions should be followed if we encounter people with Ebola-like symptoms who have also travelled to West Africa within the past 3 weeks. These patients should seek immediate treatment to ensure they receive the best available treatment as quickly as possible. And, of course, getting a flu shot is an easy, effective way to prevent ‘the other virus’ from spoiling your Holiday season!

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As temperatures begin to finally rise across southern Ontario after several weeks of gloomy weather, many Niagara residents are eager to bring out their summer wardrobe.

However, it doesn’t take long before we quickly remember that along with the summer heat comes the return of mosquitoes, spiders, and ticks. In Ontario, most residents are well informed about the illnesses mosquitoes can spread and ways of protecting yourself. But how informed are we about ticks?

There are many different species of ticks; however, the one that is of concern is the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. This sesame seed sized tick can be the host to the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease, which, if untreated, can result in arthritis, heart problems, and various nervous system problems. The American brown dog tick is approximately half a centimeter and has not been shown to carry Lyme disease.

The Niagara region has a high concentration of ticks, especially in the areas surrounding Lake Erie. The Niagara Health Department recommends wearing pants and long sleeved shirts when walking in wooded areas to minimize the chances of a tick bite.

If you notice a tick has attached to your skin, it should be removed immediately by grabbing the head with a pair of tweezers and pulling straight up. Do not try to burn the tick off of the skin using a match or lighter. The area should be then be washed with soap and water. If you are unable to remove the entire tick, you should give your doctor a call and they can remove it for you.  The tick can be brought to the health department for analysis to see if it was infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Ticks often pick up the bacteria that cause Lyme disease while feeding on infected rodents. However, it should be noted that most ticks are not carriers.

The majority of people who are bitten by ticks do not develop Lyme disease, however if you notice a red bullseye rash on the skin, develop a fever, headache or muscle and joint pains, you should seek medical attention. The symptoms typically develop within 1 to 2 weeks of a bite. Lyme disease can often be cured with antibiotics if treatment is started early.

For more information about Lyme disease or information about ticks and where to drop them off, you can call 1-888-505-6074.

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